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  • Managing Stress in the Corner Office

    Stress can severely impair anyone's ability to make good decisions under pressure.  So Justin Menkes argues that one of the most important skills that business leaders must develop is the ability to manage adrenaline.  Top leaders avoid panic when adrenaline rises.  Menkes argues that they "manage their stress in such a way that it actually increases their focus and clarity."  In this Harvard Business Review IdeaCast, Menkes spoke about how some leaders have learned to succeed while facing near constant stress:

  • Tips For Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs

    Erin Albert, author of the new book Single. Women. Entrepreneurs., wants more young women to consider starting their own businesses.  At Entrepreneur she offers up five tips on how to prepare for startup:

    1. Get educated.

    2. Get "intrapreneurial."  ("Thinking and acting like an entrepreneur while working for someone else")

    3. Get comfortable with failure.

    4. Get out there.

    5. Get fully committed.

    Read Albert's explanations for these important steps here.

  • Ric Elias on the Life (and Business) Lessons he Learned as His Plane Crashed

    Ric Elias has had a successful career in business.  From starting his career in General Electric's financial management program, to his starting his own business, Red Ventures, Elias has climbed the ladder to the corner office.  He says he enjoys the competition of the business world.  But it took a major event to help Elias realize all that was important in life.  Elias was a passenger on Flight 1549 when it crashed into the Hudson River back in January 2009.  In this Ted Talk, Elias shares the life lessons he took from that experience.  It is a moving talk, to be sure, but also one with important lessons for life and the business world:

  • Apple and Foxconn Respond to Explosion at Foxconn Plant

    More bad news today at Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer of electrical components and maker of Apple's iPod, iPhone, and iPad. An explosion at an assembly plant in China caused the death of two employees and left 16 more injured.

    Video source.

    Apple was quick to offer condolences: “We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families."  

    Foxconn also offered this statement to All Things Digital:

    "We can confirm that at approximately 7 pm on May 20, there was an explosion at our Chengdu campus. At this point, we can also confirm that there were two fatalities with injuries to 16 other employees. We are working with medical officials to provide treatment to the injured employees and we are working with government and law enforcement officials to contact the families of all employees affected by this tragedy.

    "The situation has been brought under control by the fire department and the cause of this explosion is being investigated by local police officials. Foxconn is cooperating fully with that investigation. Production has been suspended at the site of the explosion until the completion of the investigation. The safety of our employees is our highest priority and we will do whatever is required to determine and address the cause of this tragic accident."

    Foxconn was in the news in late 2010 when employee suicides called the company's labor practices into question. In June 2010, Apple's Steve Jobs defended working conditions, saying, "Foxconn is not a sweatshop." With this latest incident, Foxconn and Apple have had more than their share of communication challenges.

  • Obama Writes 2008 Instead of 2011: Could It Happen to Any of Us?

    In a guestbook at the Westminster Abbey in London, President Obama wrote a lovely sentiment -- and then signed the date: 24 May 2008.  The format (day, then month) is standard in Europe, but the date is three years off.  Perhaps the President was thinking about more wistful times?

    Obama 2008

    Discussion Starter:

    • To what extent should this error reflect on the President? A post on New York Magazine's website reads, "President Obama Has No Idea What Year It Is."  What do you think of the criticism?
  • ABA Responds to Critics of High Calorie Sports Drinks

    A new study found negative effects of high calorie sports drinks on children. Study authors say that children don't need the calories, caffeine, and other stimulants. This shouldn't come as a big surprise but has warranted this response from the American Beverage Association.

    This isn't the first time that a study has put the American Beverage Association on the defense. A study on diet soda was highly criticized by the ABA on Good Morning America:

    Source: Putting Health Before Headlines from American Beverage Association on Vimeo.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Considering the recent study about high calorie sports drinks, in what ways does the ABA's response meet criteria for persuasive communication? In what ways was their response effective and ineffective?
    • Looking at the video above, how do you assess the ABA's approach about the diet soda controversy? Do you buy their argument and criticism of the study?

    Assignment Idea:

    • On the ABA's website, you'll find several articles defending beverage makers and explaining new initiatives that support health, for example, their "Clear on Calories" section.  What parts of the ABA's messages do you find most convincing?  Least?
  • USDA Replaces Food Pyramid Graphic

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying a new graphic to help people understand healthy food choices. The pyramid graphic was thought to be confusing (well, yes, we see a person climbing a mountain with a pile of food at the bottom). The USDA's revised graphic is much simpler, showing just a plate with words to represent portions of food. To accompany the new communication, the USDA has a new website.

    Old Food Pyramid

    Choose My Plate
    Discussion Starters:

    • In what ways is the new graphic more effective than the old? How do you think people will react to the image?
    • Read the USDA's summary of messages about nutrition. How effective do you find this summary for combating obesity? What ideas do you have for improving these messages?
  • 42% of Sarah Palin's Emails Are "Uninteresting"

    The buzz seems to be fading. According to the Guardian, 42% of over 6,000 pages of Sarah Palin's emails scanned so far are "uninteresting." Over 24,000 pages of the former governor of Alaska's emails have been released for public perusal. 

      Palin Emal Summary

    Here are a few mildly interesting ones for business communication students:

    Discussion Starters:

    • Why do you think Sarah Palin's email is of such interest to the press? Do you find her communications interesting? Why or why not?
    • Consider your own email communication. Have you written anything in the past year that you would regret if you saw it on Facebook?
  • "Facebook Fatigue" or a Poor Source of Data?

    One report indicates that Facebook lost millions of users in May: 6 million Americans, 1.5 million Canadians, and 100,000 Britons. Of course, Facebook still enjoys great success with almost 700 million users worldwide, but the company's goal is to reach 1 billion, and this is a step in the wrong direction.

    While critics say that people are tiring of the social networking service and have increasing concerns about privacy, Facebook has responded with optimism. The company has questioned the data (apparently pulled from the reach of Facebook ads) and maintains that it is "very pleased" with its overall growth, claiming that "50 percent of active users log on to Facebook on any given day."

    FB cartoon

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you buy Facebook's argument about the data source? Why or why not? 
    • What is your personal view of Facebook? Have you ever felt "Facebook fatigue" or known others to quit?
  • Customer Captures Anti-Gay Comments at Starbucks

    At a Long Island Starbucks, a customer apparently overheard a manager speaking with an employee (Jeffrey) and then making disrespectful comments about him to other employees. The customer's blog post about the incident got Starbucks' attention.

    Starbucks' response, "Our Dedication to Embrace Diversity,"  states, "We are disheartened by the allegations reported in an East Coast Starbucks store and are taking immediate measures to investigate and take any steps necessary to make this right. The actions reported do not correspond with our values, who we are as a company or the beliefs we try to instill in our partners."

    Starbucks LI

    Discussion Starters:

    • How, if at all, does the customer's alleged experience and Starbucks' response affect your perspective of Starbucks as an employer or as a company?
    • If you owned the Long Island Starbucks store, what, if anything, would you do in response to the customer's blog post?

    Assignment Idea:

    • The customer's blog post doesn't follow principles of business communication. Rewrite Missy's blog post to improve focus and organization.
  • As "Sheriff" of Vancouver Riots, Social Media Nabs Several People

    Disappointed fans rioted after the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup loss, and now some are paying the price. A University of British Columbia student, caught up in the action and caught on video, took two pair of pants from a store. She has since apologized on her blog

    Cacnio wasn't the only one identified in riot videos (she can be seen at 1:30 - 1:33 below). According to a Globe and Mail story, "Social media has become the sheriff of this unlawful event, in essence rounding up a number of rioters by posting their pictures on the Internet and encouraging people to identify the people in them. That has led to online shaming of those named, some of whom have since turned themselves into police and are lining up to publicly apologize online."


    Discussion Starters:

    • If a prospective employer Googled you, what would he or she find? (Try searching for yourself to make sure.)
    • How do you assess Cacnio's apology? She has quite an extensive list of people to whom she apologizes. Do you think this is appropriate given the situation, or did she do more than was necessary?
  • Will Graphic Images Encourage People to Quit Smoking?

    The U.S. government is using more visuals to help people get healthier. Shortly after revising the food pyramid, federal health officials have selected nine graphic images to appear on cigarette packs. If you're strong, you can see all of the new images here. As we might expect, the major tobacco companies are disputing the images, claiming, among other issues, infringement of their right to free speech. Read the government's news release.

    Cigarette pack images

    Discussion Starters:

    • Which, if any, of the images might convince someone to quit smoking? Do you find some images more effective than others? Why?
    • Why do you think the government is using pathos (emotional appeals) in this campaign rather than logical arguments, for example, providing data about life expectancy?
    • The Truth campaign has used graphic videos to encourage young people not to start or to quit smoking. How effective do you find this video, for example?
  • Nike "Get High" T-Shirts Anger Boston Mayor

    Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino doesn't like Nike's new T-shirts. He believes that messages such as "Get High" and "Dope" promote drug use. In a letter to the general manager of Niketown Boston, Menino urges the company to remove the T-shirts.

    Nike T-Shirts

    Nike has responded to my tweet about the situation:

    Discussion Starters:

    • What is your opinion of Nike's new T-shirts: dangerous or just clever marketing?
    • Analyze the mayor's letter. What principles of persuasion does he use? Do you consider this an effective letter? Why or why not?
    • How do you think Nike should respond to the mayor's letter? What are the consequences of the company removing -- or keeping -- the T-shirts?
    • How do you assess Nike's tweets to BizCom in the News?
  • Delta Criticized for Saudi Partnership: Can Jews Fly?

    Delta Airlines has formed an alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines that is causing people to question whether Delta discriminates against Jewish people. The Saudi government does not grant visas to Israelis. The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism, has urged the airline not to "be a party" to discriminatory practices. Delta responded to the criticism in a statement: "Delta Air Lines does not discriminate nor do we condone discrimination against any of our customers in regards to age, race, nationality, religion, or gender." Read more of Delta's response on its blog.

     Discussion Starters:

    • Do you consider Delta's partnership discriminatory? Why or why not?
    • How do you react to Delta's response on its blog? Which arguments do you find most and least convincing?
  • Former Skype Employees Lose Stock Options

    Following Microsoft's acquisition of Skype, former Skype employees are challenging the company's stance on stock options, including those they thought were "vested" or guaranteed. In a letter to one departing employee, the issue of stock options was explained:

    "Not withstanding the exercisability of your Options, Section 12 of your Stock Option Grant Agreement (the 'Grant Agreement') provides that any shares issuable upon the exercise of your Options would be issued on your behalf to the Partnership."

    Well that clears things up.

      Skype and Microsoft
    Read more here.

    Assignment Idea:

    • Read the letter about stock options. See how many nominalizations and prepositions you can identify.
    • If you have enough finance knowledge, try to rewrite the letter in plain language.
  • Santa Makes a Summer Appearance in Pepsi Commercial

    Pepsi has launched a new commercial featuring Santa Clause at a summer party. In a direct hit to Coke, which Pepsi now trails in sales (including Diet Coke), the ad shows Santa rejecting bottles of Coca-Cola. Critics say that Pepsi had lost focus on its flagship product; does this commercial signal a new direction?

     Discussion Starters:

    • Had you associated Santa Clause with Coke? Does your knowledge or lack of knowledge change your perception of the commercial?
    • How is Pepsi using logos, pathos, and ethos in this commercial to persuade viewers?
  • Following Complaint Letter, No "Mystery Shopper" Study of Doctors

    The Obama Administration had planned a survey to test how difficult it is for Medicaid and Medicare patients to get appointments with doctors. But following criticism about the cost of the study and the "proposed clandestine method of collecting information from physician offices," the study has been canceled.

    For data collection, the study called for mystery shoppers, who would pose as patients. In a letter, Senator Mark Kirk emphasized the "stealth" nature of the plan and his belief that the purpose of the study -- to prove a shortage of doctors -- has already been documented.

    Watch a related video: President Obama's discussion of Medicare.

    Video source.

     Discussion Starters:

    • What research was the Obama Administration trying to gather that they believed could only be obtained through mystery shoppers? In other words, what was the value of using mystery shoppers for this study?
    • From reading Senator Kirk's letter, do you consider the original study with mystery shoppers to be ethical for this purpose? Why or why not?
  • Are People Tired of Email?

    Email open and click rates are on the decline, meaning people are less likely to open a marketing email. The latest study shows people opening marketing emails at a rate of 17% (compared to 26% in 2009).

    Email Open and Click Rates

    This continues a trend since 2007.

    Email Open Rates

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?
    • What influences whether you open an email?
    • What can you learn from this for your own email messages -- both internal and external?

    Assignment Ideas:

    • Open your email inbox. Looking at the last 25 or so messages, which are you most likely to open and why? In small groups, discuss your reaction to the marketing emails. Did you open them initially?
    • Now look at your sent box. Rewrite the subject lines of five emails to make them more enticing for the receiver to open.
  • Panic Erupts over Potential Loss of the Oxford Comma

    One of the most beloved and hated punctuation marks of our time, the Oxford (or "serial") comma was briefly living on the edge of obscurity. As all business communication instructors likely know, the Oxford comma is the last in a series, for example, "a, b, and c" instead of "a, b and c." It's usefulness is touted by many and illustrated in this example (NPR): "'I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer, and a pharmaceutical salesperson.' (In this sentence, I am on The Bachelorette.)" 

    Twitter rumors had The University of Oxford dropping the comma for good; however, it has merely continued its practice of omitting the comma in press releases and internal communications (which matches journalistic standards). The university's style guide for books is in tact, recommending the comma for clarity. Whew!

    For a humorous -- but obscene -- music video, watch "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend. The lyrics include "Who gives a ---- about an Oxford Comma?"


    Discussion Starters:

    • What are the arguments for and against the Oxford comma?
    • Think of a few sentences for which the comma would add clarity.
  • Fox News' Twitter Feed Hacked with False Reports of Obama's Death

    Fox News was the latest victim of computer hacking when its Twitter feed showed several false tweets about President Obama's death. As of this writing, the source of the security breach is unclear.

    CNET's hacker chart shows a series of recent attacks, which have caused increasing concern about computer security.

    Video source.

    Fox News Tweet

    Discussion Starters:

    • The hackers' rationale for breaching Fox News' Twitter feed is this: "We are looking to find information about corporations to assist with antisec [a concerted hacker attack on corporate and government security]. Fox News was selected because we figured their security would be just as much of a joke as their reporting." What do you think of this response? Did the hackers make a funny joke, raise a good point, or present a serious concern?
    • What are the consequences of this breach for the country? For Fox News?
  • Most Hated Companies

    Business Insider has posted a list of the 19 most hated companies, based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Large banks, airlines, and power and telecom companies seem to be most hated according to thousands of customer satisfaction surveys. Weighing in at number 6, US Airways received 61/100 points from customers.

    US Air #6

    Discussion Starters:

    • Does this list surprise you? Why or why not? Does the list match your own experience with these companies?
    • According to one analyst at the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, large banks, airlines, and communication firms represent "not terribly competitive industries, as the switching barriers for most of them are quite high... In other industries, like the food or clothing sector, the competition is huge. They bend over backwards to make customers happy, because they have to." How does this rationale explain the customer service failures? Does it excuse them?
  • How "Awesome" Is Facebook + Skype?

    Last week, in an Apple-style tease, Facebook promised an "awesome" announcement today.

    The news is a video calling feature that Facebook users can access without a separate Skype account. The response seems to be excitement, indifference, and a little anger laced with betrayal:

    Facebook, you can’t do this to us. I have been loyal to you for years because you held out a tantalizing future where my only interaction would be with one-inch-square boxes that vaguely resembled my memory of what people once looked like. You promised me that I would never have to talk to anyone ever again.

    According to the Washington Post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg no longer considers growth a metric of social networking. Rather, Facebook will focus on apps and mobile technology. This shift is convenient following some reports that Facebook is losing users.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What do you think of Facebook's pre-announcement? Is this a clever marketing approach or just annoying?
    • In Chapter 1, we discuss the pending convergence of communication technologies. Do you see this announcement as a move towards convergence or something else?
  • How Much Do You Hate PowerPoint?

    If you're like a political group in Switzerland, you would ban PowerPoint forever. The Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) views PowerPoint "as a representative of all presentation software" (and clearly, pure evil). With rough calculations, the group claims that PowerPoint destroys 2.1 billion Swiss Francs each year and potentially 110 billion Euros; however, the group says that "the average number of participants may be umpteen times higher" (whatever "umpteen" is).

    Of course, this isn't the first cry for help in the Days of PowerPoint. Many of us have been subjected to "death by PowerPoint" and have welcomed scathing articles such as the New York Times piece, "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint."

    But one might ask: why not just improve how we use the software rather than throw out the tool entirely?

    Discussion Starters:

    • As a viewer of PowerPoint presentations, what frustrates you? How have you seen people misuse the software?
    • What alternatives do you see for PowerPoint? What other ways can you engage an audience and help them visualize information?
  • When Twitter Becomes Triage

    On the heels of Business Insider's "Most Hated Companies" list, I am increasingly annoyed at companies that can't seem to fix core problems. Rather, they put their customer service staff on the front line to appease people through Twitter and other channels.

    A look at DirectTV's recent tweets, for example, reveals a company in distress: "DM us," "Have you called," "I'm sorry," "We need to escalate." Too many apologies for one day of work. Social media will do just so much to resolve systemic company issues, as this customer says:

    DirectTV response
    Discussion Starters:

    • How do you assess DirectTV's approach? Compare DirectTV's tweets to similar companies'.
    • What is your best experience with a company response to a complaint? When have you complained to a company and had good results?